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Art teacher asking students, community members to create project for collaborative online exhibit

People all over the world are social distancing and quarantining due to the pandemic.  

One thing that students at Pittsburg State and community members in Pittsburg are missing out on is social interaction and being connected with each other.  

PSU Art instructor Janet Lewis set out to change this with an online exhibit open to everyone in Pittsburg.  

The title of the exhibit is “REFOCUS 2020” and the idea is for everyone who chooses to participate to refocus their vision for 2020. The challenge is to only use materials which are directly available to each person to create or decorate “visionary glasses.”  

The exhibit is being hosted by ArtForms Gallery and can be accessed via a link on the ArtForms Gallery homepage or on their Facebook page.  

Those who don’t have a Facebook account but would like to participate can email a photo of their creation to Lewis including the title of the piece and how they would like to be identified as the artist at jlewis@pittstate.edu or to ArtForms Gallery at info@artforms-gallery.com

Lewis began thinking about alternative delivery methods during spring break, right before the announcement that in-class instruction would be cancelled for the remainder of the semester.  

“Well, (I started thinking about this project) probably toward the middle of the week that we had prior to spring break,” Lewis said. “…Primarily I teach 3D art studio courses. So, what was changing during that week was the information that I was getting about whether or not I would have access to the studio… So, I was copying pages out of books… (that) still would have been more specific to what we would be doing hands on in the studio. Then, when it was determined there would be no studio access, then I… (didn’t know) whether students even would be in town to come pick up supplies. I think I had sent a survey and a lot of them had just gone home or wherever a week early for spring break so students wouldn’t even be in town if I could put together some kind of kit of something of materials. But really, it’s the tools and the equipment… that are… just kind of irreplaceable for most people. So.., (I thought) of ways they could utilize just what they have wherever they’re at.”  

Lewis made a promotional video about the exhibit and posted it on ArtForm’s social media and on the Canvas board for her classes. She also recorded a video of herself making her idea of rose-colored glasses for the exhibit and made an infographic with tips and ideas for those who have limited resources.  

“… So, if you think about like what we’re missing by going online course delivery versus face-to-face is… that sense of community, that the idea that we would stay connected to each other for the purposes of the coursework, that’s different than thinking that we would stay connected as humans,” Lewis said. “So, art, creative activities, those things sort of things… (have) been a connection that humans make. So.., I personally hated the idea of just being isolated somewhere in front of a computer doing Zoom meetings…”  

The second creative challenge for Lewis’s students included researching a historic pandemic, writing a research paper about it, and then designing and creating a timepiece using the resources they had available. Students would compare their own experiences with those of people who existed during the time of the historic pandemic they research and how those experiences affect one’s sense of time and place.  

“… So, the timepieces, some of them actually did contemporary clocks and that sort of things,” Lewis said. “…They can either works hands on if they have the capabilities or they can do technical drawings…, digital drawings, or 3D modeling… If they have a computer but they don’t have a workshop space, they might want to produce some kind of a digital solution… If they go to their family home, maybe there’s a garage (or) workshop… They could also do paper drawings (and) that sort of thing… What they had to do is write a research paper about a historic pandemic and try to look for some connection that they would have had to the people that existed during that time, what was their experience like? What that revealed is that there are a lot of practices that we’re doing now, like with the social distances and quarantine, that were effective historically. I think it’s important to realize we’re doing the same things that have been effective in the past and maybe we have a little different view… It’s a little different perspective and I think it kind of can help you cope to feel like you’re a part of something bigger. So, the timepieces, some people did, like I said, a traditional kind of analog clock face, some did digital, some people referred back to more historic timepieces like sundials or hourglass type of things.”  

The third and final creative challenge that Lewis has set up for her students is more conceptual. The students will design or create a new piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from a threat other than the current COVID-19 threat.  

“It’s more conceptional,” Lewis said. “It is thinking about what threats exist besides (the pandemic) … So, I wanted them to think about what threats already exist that we’re sort of maybe complacent about some of them kind of ongoing things or things that are more conceptual… like how do you protect yourself from a broken heart because that’s sort of a phrase that we use but it wouldn’t actually be a piece of equipment… but that’s where its conceptual… It should be something that is designed, maybe it has magical or supernatural powers attached to that PPE or something along those lines. But it gives them a chance to sort of consider existing threats that they’ve already been living with… ‘What makes this one, why is it the magnitude that it is…?’. The others actually have had prolonged, bigger effects but we’ve somehow resolved ourselves to those threats… So, thinking forward, there will be a point where, and this is pure speculation on my part, we’ll probably need to get to that point with the COVID-19 threat. If we’re talking about like businesses reopening (and) that sort of thing, the threat is not going to be completely gone… Nationwide, globally people are talking about how do we resume if all indications are that the threat will still be present on some level, somewhere? So, (I’m) trying to get the students to… be resourceful, look back historically, look forward, sort of get out of your little isolated pod… It’s wearing on me as well… (So, I want to) get us all out of our heads just a little bit…”  

At the end of the semester, students will take their work from all three creative challenges and compile it into a portfolio that will serve as a record of their coursework but also their experiences before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

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